(Author’s note: Hey guys! I’m really enjoying the comments and whatnot I’m getting about this, and even happier than you’re all enjoying it^^ Keep it coming, and I’ll be sure to reply to ones that I can without spoiling <3. Also a reminder that I have a channel for non-spoiler questions (like the level system, adventurer ratings, etc) on the RTD Discord! I will also be posting a teaser for the next chapter after each new chapter post on there, so go check it out if you’re curious! Lastly, and most importantly, PlasticSaint did all the editing for this one. I think he did a great job and I wanted to credit him a bit… Alright enough interruptions, enjoy the chapter!)
“As written in the quest description, you will accompany me around Chalice while I investigate various topics. Specifically, you’ll serve a dual purpose as both research assistants and guards.” Kara explained, after her butler had brought them tea and an assortment of small cakes which looked as expensive as some of the books on the shelves.
“You will be compensated every two weeks, one-hundred gold each. The funds will be deposited directly into your magic banking accounts. Once you consent to the quest conditions, I will sign a binding contract to this effect. We will also cover any necessary travel expenses during the length of the quest, aside from weapons, or other personal purchases. Lastly, what the quest slip did not state, is what we will be researching. Unfortunately, I will not be able to go into details until you’ve both signed a binding contract. One preventing you from speaking of our research to anyone outside our group, apart from the head of the Aqua family.”.She finished with a serious expression on her face.
Rox had to take a moment to process what he had just been told. Most of it he had already known, although the magic contracts were new, and he was now curious beyond belief as to what a genius talent like Kara would need to personally travel the world to research. With how rich she and her family seemed to be, one would normally think that they could just purchase any materials or books they’d need, or hire people to do it for them. He looked over to Feera, who looked back at him for a moment before speaking.
“Yeah, I can promise not to tell anyone. The pay is definitely good enough to buy my silence.” Feera’s voice was as cheery as ever. She was not exaggerating about the pay, one hundred gold was no small amount. The average citizen could work a high paying job every day for a year and only be able to reach around eighty gold. “You must be studying something very juicy, or very blasphemous, to be offering us this much pay twice per month just for keeping bandits away and keeping our mouths shut.” This time when she spoke the cheerful tone had an edge. It might be best to be wary of this elf.
Kara, however, took it in stride and responded gracefully, “I suppose you will have to find out for yourself. After you sign the contract.” She beckoned to the butler, who brought forward two pieces of pristine, white paper with their individual contracts written on them. There was a magic seal on each one, signifying that it would bind those involved with magic to follow through lest they be cursed by the gods. “Please read through your individual contracts before signing, as you will not be able to go back on your word.”
She had not bothered to confirm whether or not Rox would be signing the paper. He was a bit bothered by this, but shrugged it off and took the paper. He could always decline if he decided not to since he had not committed yet. He began to scan through the contract, everything she had said was on it except that there was one extra thing. According to the contract, Rox would have to allow Kara to teach him the basics of magic until she was satisfied with his progress enough to release him from the contract. It also stated that he’d have ten gold added to his pay because of this.
Rox sighed, but made sure not to show any emotional change on his face. He looked up and found the young Aqua girl staring expectantly into his eyes, like an artist looking at a blank canvas. “It says here in my contract that you want to teach me magic, and that you’d be paying me to let you?” He said awkwardly.
Feera went wide-eyed as Kara replied, “Yes, I have long wished to find someone with untapped magical potential that I could train and who would have the capacity to handle it. I picked you because your rating displayed eight level zero skills, which would normally be impossible. I wish to first find a way to increase these to the first level where you can use them, and then teach you to harness them. Not that you’ll ever reach my level. However, I would like to make one important distinction. It is not to let me teach you. You are receiving the honor of being my student.”
He was instantly annoyed by her response, but held his tongue. After a deep breath to calm himself, he spoke, “Thank you for your generous offer, however, I do not need any form of teaching in the ways of magic. I already have plenty of knowledge of the basics, I simply can not use magic. I am more than happy to accompany you as a guard during your travels, though, since I am a fully capable fighter even without magic.” He did his best to sound sincere while rejecting the teaching offer, however, Kara and Feera were both shaking their heads.
Feera spoke first, her tone incredulous, “What do you mean, ‘no’? This is your chance to study under one of the greatest young mages of our time, and someone of the Aqua family no less! Not to mention, you’ll be getting paid to be taught. I get that you’re hesitant to bend your pride to a girl a tenth of your age, but you really should take this chance. Even if you are strong enough to survive in the Forest of Giants, without any magic whatsoever, as impossible as that also sounds.” She stated the last part more as an afterthought and trailed off after speaking.
“Forest of Giants? No, never mind. See, neither of you seem to understand. As I said a moment ago, you are not letting me teach you. You are receiving the honor of learning under me. Your consent is not a factor. If you are joining me on this expedition, then you are agreeing to the contract in front of you.” She spoke with absolute confidence; either agree to my terms, or not at all.
Rox looked at her, then back at the sheet of paper and resigned himself. His thumb hesitated over the magic seal before pressing onto the seal, signing the contract. As he did, Feera followed suit, and both of their contracts glowed aquamarine for a few moments before returning to their original state. Kara retrieved them quickly, before handing them off to her butler, giving him quiet instructions to deliver it to the head of the Aqua Family. He put the two papers into an official-looking envelope, then he and the envelope left the room. After the door shut behind him, Kara spoke once more.
“Excellent, now that that’s out of the way, I’ll explain the items of interest for my research endeavor.” She paused, putting her finger to her chin as if thinking for a moment. The action made her look far cuter than her personality. After a few moments of being lost in thought, she continued, “Before that though, I’d like to address two things. First, I’d like you both to look over the other’s ratings. You two are partners from now on, and it will be good to know your partner’s abilities to at least the most basic minimum capacity.”
Feera jumped in after Kara finished speaking, “Oh, Rox and I have already shared our ratings. I saw his abilities and levels, but I’m more curious about his fighting style. Apparently, he’s lived his entire life in the Forest of Giants, with no abilities I wonder how he did it.” They both then turned to look at Rox with gleaming eyes, as if they had both been waiting for a good chance to ask but had been hiding it behind business facades. Although, Rox doubted Feera had any kind of a professional attitude.
He decided to relieve their curiosity. With the looks of two beautiful girls on him, it was difficult not to give in to the pressure. “I was actually born in the city near the forest, Fira to a branch of the Nihil family. I grew up there until I reached elven maturity, and as a rite of passage test for the family, I was tasked with surviving in the forest for twenty-four hours. I succeeded, however when I tried to leave there was a barrier blocking my exit. To make a long story short, I was forced to survive there until I could leave. I left the forest only about a year ago, however, my direct family seems to have all died in some way or another, and the main family does not concern themselves with the branch families. Hence, I became an adventurer and here I am.” After he finished telling the short version of his story he looked at the two girls. They both seemed disappointed.
Feera was the first to speak, “That’s all very interesting, but I wanted to know how you survived in the forest for as long as you did.”
Kara quickly followed, “Yes, how did you survive in the forest without getting eaten while not having any form of abilities?”
His gaze shifted between them, hesitating before answering. “I ran away a lot in the beginning. At first, I would survive off of the wild plants, but I didn’t know much about that stuff so I got sick a lot. Eventually I made traps and killed smaller creatures, then larger ones, and eventually, I learned how to fight when I had to. I also picked up some other skills that came in handy, but mostly I just ran away from the stronger things and fought the weaker ones for food.”
Both women were staring at him wide-eyed. Kara managed to get a sentence out first this time, “You have to be making this up! The weakest recorded creature in that hellish place is the hippogriff! Even gold rank adventurers would have trouble fighting something as powerful as that. Even gold rank adventurers would have trouble fighting something as powerful as that.”
“Even if you were lucky enough to fight one off, there’s no way you killed anything stronger than that without some kind of ability.” Feera agreed with Kara as if continuing her direct line of thoughts. He was beginning to feel like he said something he should not have. The way he saw it, if someone can not adapt to their environment then they die. However, it seemed that his story was a bit outside the realm of normality.
“Look, whether you believe me or not is up to you. I’m just answering your questions. Instead of accusing me of lying to my employer and apparent partner, how about you start explaining what you’re researching like you said you would?” Rox said defensively, wanting to change the conversation topic quickly so that they would stop attacking him about his past. Feera looked a bit guilty, having accused her new partner of lying, directly to his face no less. Kara flushed in embarrassment and a small amount of anger.
She cleared her throat a few times before speaking while Rox resisted the urge to smirk. Once she had composed herself she started to explain with a curt tone, “Fine. There are a few things I am going to be looking into. First and foremost, I’ve taken a keen interest in sealing magic as well as magic that deals with releasing seals. To do this, we will be traveling to many different ruins known to have sealed powerful entities at one time. I wish to study the ritual circles left behind to try to glean what I can from them.” As she spoke, her mood seemed to improve since she was speaking about something that fascinated her. When she began her second point, she raised two fingers up as if starting to count, “Rox might know, since he’s apart of the Nihil family, however, this will be new to you Feera. I also wish to look for information regarding a race of being known as ‘Aetherous’. From what I have gathered so far, they seem to be beings of great power that were seemingly immortal and challenged the gods themselves on more than one occasion; they even succeeded in killing some of them permanently. So, yes, Feera, that would make this a blasphemous research endeavor. If any church becomes aware of what we are doing, we will be marked as heretics and bounties will be placed on our heads.” Rox and Feera both felt pits in their stomachs as they heard the gravity of what they were about to set out to do. However before either of them could speak, Kara continued, “Do not worry though, I have taken ample precautions to prevent this. To start, anyone who has even the slightest idea concerning what we are doing has been put under contract. Anyone who is not under contract believes that we are simply researching seals, as I stated earlier. We are focusing on that, so even magic to force the truth out of someone under contract will not reveal it. I have taken other precautions as well, but I am under contract myself to not discuss them with anyone apart from my father, I apologize.” She bowed her head for a moment, surprising them both. A spoiled rich girl who thinks she is better than everyone, that is what they thought of her so far, yet here she was bowing her head to them in apology. They could not help but accept it, not that they really had a choice.
After a long silence, Feera spoke up in her usual cheery tone, completely dispelling the tense atmosphere that had taken hold. “So, what you’re saying is that I get paid to keep bandits away from you and keep my mouth shut. Great, it’s exactly the way I said it was before.” She then beamed, her cheerful personality becoming infectious. The other two could not help but smile with her. All things considered, they might have better chemistry with each other than any of them originally thought.
At that moment, Sheeron burst through the door, a young, sheepish-looking, blonde boy following behind him. “This is Toley. He will be the bodyguard trainee during this quest. Treat him well.” He stated simply, without a greeting. “He has already been filled in,” he continued, “so let’s get on with this already. I want to leave the city as soon as possible, tonight under the cover of darkness would be ideal. However, I’m not boorish enough to demand that of our new recruits.” He then stood there, looking at Kara for confirmation as the boy named Toley looked nervously between everyone.
It did not take long for Kara to answer, “Then let us officially begin the quest.” Her tone was stiff, as if she were speaking to someone she disliked. “Provisions are already prepared, all we need to do is gather personal effects.” She then looked to Rox and Feera, “I have rooms prepared for the two of you, food will be brought to you later tonight.” After giving her first order of the quest, she left the room with Sheeron and Toley. Leaving Rox alone with Feera, bewildered at the abruptness of the entire situation.